Skip to content

4 Strict Rules You Should Always Follow at Costco If You Want to Keep Your Membership

Shopping at the members-only club is a privilege, which can be ripped away if you violate store policies.

Costco is one of America's most popular and successful grocery retailers, but it's not your typical grocery store. It's a club. You must pay a yearly fee in order to shop there. And, like any club, there are rules that you need to follow.

Stick to these rules and you get unlimited access to hundreds of Costco warehouses around the world, each filled with thousands of desirable foods and other products at discounted prices. You are also entitled to various other perks, as well.

But, if you break the rules—or, even appear to—then you're bound for trouble. You may even lose your precious membership altogether.

Lest you think that Costco isn't really serious about these rules, then you should check out what shoppers have been saying lately on social media. Employees are "cracking down" on suspected rule-breakers, and shoppers are getting "interrogated" in the process, according to customers on Reddit. At least one alleged offender reportedly got booted from the premises recently.

Don't let this happen to you. Make sure your next Costco run goes as smoothly as possible by following these essential rules.

9 Surprising Costco Policies You'd Only Know If You Read The Fine Print

Don't forget your membership card

costco membership
Andy.LIU / Shutterstock

Only paying members can shop at Costco. Your membership card is proof that you belong. If you hope to avoid any hassles at the warehouse, it's critical to have this form of identification with you when you shop. Ideally, it will feature an up-to-date photo of you on the back (more on that below).

Officially, you are required to present this card each time that you enter a Costco warehouse and again when you check out. Some locations are more lax about the entry requirement than others, but you will definitely need the card when you arrive at the register. No card? No dice. Costco simply will not accept payment without first scanning that all-important card.

If you are the forgetful sort, there is a backup in case you ever leave your card behind. Download the Costco mobile app. You can upload a digital version of your membership card and have it ready to go. While the app itself is lacking in many areas, the digital membership card is a major perk. It's not a perfect substitute for the actual, physical card, however. While you can use it at checkout, the digital version doesn't allow you to pay at the gas pumps and it's not valid in the food court, either.

Don't try to use someone else's membership card

Costco membership

Your membership card is a special thing. Each card is "not transferable," per Costco's rules, meaning that only you can use it. Not your parents. Not your spouse or significant other. Not your children. And definitely not that random dude standing behind you in line who claims that he left his at home. Every paying member is entitled to one additional card per household—your chosen "plus one" must be 16 or older and living at the same address, the rules say—but only the person identified on each specific card is technically allowed to use it.

Card sharing is strictly prohibited, as many shoppers recently found out the card hard way. "My wife is on our family account and used my Costco card once, because she forgot hers," one shopper wrote last month. "They took the card away." Another customer on TikTok recently reported that his mother got banned for using his father's card: "After confirming that it wasn't her card, they later told her that she could never go back to that location again."

Employees are now regularly checking photos to make sure that your face matches the image on the card. Some shoppers say their very identities have been called into question. If your current photo is outdated, then it's probably worth it to stop by the membership desk and get your picture retaken.

"Our membership policy states that our membership cards are not transferable and since expanding our self-service checkout, we've noticed that non-member shoppers have been using membership cards that do not belong to them," Costco recently explained in a statement to Eat This, Not That! "We don't feel it's right that non-members receive the same benefits and pricing as our members. As we already ask for the membership card at checkout, we are now asking to see their membership card with their photo at our self-service checkout registers."

Don't try to pay with someone else's credit or debit card

costco receipt

Sure, you can bring your children and up to two guests to the warehouse, but they absolutely cannot pay for anything at the register. "Only Costco members may purchase items," according to the rules. Shoppers often get stopped when the name on the payment card doesn't match the one on their membership card. Even married couples get denied. "This happens a lot at my Costco," one customer wrote on Reddit. "I have a membership and my husband wants to pay with his credit card. They do not allow that!" 

Getting caught with someone else's credit card can really delay your checkout time. "They saw my husband hand me a card and wouldn't let me use it," another shopper wrote, "so I had to wait at the check out while he went to get my wallet out of the car so I could use the exact same card in my name instead."

Customers may fume about this "frustrating" rule, but Costco probably has a good reason for its strict members-only payment policy. "If you use someone else's card you can dispute the charge as you could say it wasn't you making the purchase," one Redditor suggested, adding, "corporate is very strict with preventing illegal chargebacks from happening."

Don't abuse the famously lenient return policy

Costco membership

Costco has perhaps the most laid-back return policy of any major retailer, leading to some incredible stories about all the stuff that shoppers have brought back over the years. But it seems even this legendarily accepting club has its limits. The rules say that your "membership may be terminated at Costco's discretion and without cause" and going overboard at the returns desk might just cross that line.

One shopper told Business Insider that Costco revoked her membership in 2018 after she tried to return a printer eight years after purchase, prompting a manager to look up her past returns. Turns out, there were many. She later received a formal termination letter, which stated: "It is apparent from a review of your membership account that you are not happy with the products you have purchased from Costco, and we are unable to satisfy you as a member." The club reportedly refunded her for the printer, its ink, and her yearly membership fee, but she won't be coming back again.

Chris Shott
Chris Shott is the Deputy Editor covering restaurants and groceries for Eat This, Not That! Read more about Chris